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Race is on for SF District 8 supervisor seat

by Matthew S. Bajko

Rafael Mandelman kicked off his campaign for San<br>Francisco District 8 supervisor last week. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Rafael Mandelman kicked off his campaign for San
Francisco District 8 supervisor last week. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

With less than a year to go before the first ballots are cast, the race for the District 8 seat on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors is in full swing. The outcome will not only decide who will represent the gay Castro district and adjacent neighborhoods in the heart of the city, but could also be key if moderates are to maintain or grow their one-seat board majority at City Hall.

Progressive Rafael Mandelman, a gay man who led City College of San Francisco through its accreditation crisis as president of the community college's board, officially kicked off his bid last Wednesday, June 14, outside a middle school in Noe Valley where he once taught summer school. More than 300 people turned out for the start of Mandelman's second bid for the seat, having run unsuccessfully for it in 2010.

"We need an independent voice in City Hall who will go beyond the rhetoric and won't be afraid to hold our elected officials accountable," said Mandelman, 43, a land use attorney who grew up in San Francisco and has lived in District 8 the past 18 years.

It was a not-so-subtle swipe at Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, 60, a gay married father who was appointed to the vacant District 8 seat in January by Mayor Ed Lee, becoming the first HIV-positive person on the board. Sheehy and his husband, Bill Berry, have lived together in the district for 18 years, first in Noe Valley and then in Glen Park, where they bought a home in 2004. They have a 12-year-old daughter, Michelle Berry, who attends public school in the city.

A onetime progressive leader, having served as president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, as did Mandelman, Sheehy is now aligned with the six-person moderate bloc on the 11-member board.

Due to his appointment to serve out the last two years of a four-year term, Sheehy must first run in next June's primary to remain on the board through 2018. He then needs to run again next November for a full term, likely both times against Mandelman, who is raising money to fund his own back-to-back campaigns next year.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

Sheehy told the Bay Area Reporter he plans to hold his own campaign kickoff event at some point, but for now, is focused on being a supervisor. Over the last few months he has been attending campaign fundraisers as he tries to amass a sizeable war chest by the June 30 filing deadline in order to qualify for $100,000 in public campaign financing.

"I am focused on my job right now. I campaign, but it really has to be secondary," he said.

At a fundraiser in Noe Valley the night after Mandelman's event, Sheehy described himself as being more of a political "independent" on the board and sharply questioned the rationale behind Mandelman's decision to run against him. He noted that having two gay men run for the same board seat does nothing to increase LGBT representation on the board, on which Sheehy is now the only LGBT member.

"Why is he running?" asked Sheehy of his opponent, answering it is mainly due to "ambition" and claiming that, "Rafael has never done anything for the community."

Sheehy noted how he co-led the fight to secure domestic partner benefits in the 1990s and launched a national boycott against United Airlines when it sued the city over its policy. He also pointed to his time serving former mayor Gavin Newsom as his unpaid HIV policy adviser and as a co-founder of the city's Getting to Zero initiative aimed at reducing new HIV transmissions by 90 percent come 2020.

"Rafael goes to a lot of parties; I do policy work," said Sheehy, also noting his being a member of the board overseeing California's stem cell research institute.


Housing, housing, housing

His main focus as a supervisor, said Sheehy, is to be an advocate for parents with children in the city's public schools and for homeless youth, especially those who are LGBT and account for a majority of those living on the city's streets. He recently secured $1.5 million in the mayor's proposed budget for addressing youth homelessness and is now pushing to see the city open a navigation center dedicated to homeless youth.

"It is a real problem and getting worse," said Sheehy, promising that he "can move the needle for these kids."

He is also a proponent of seeing more housing be built that is affordable for people making moderate incomes, such as teachers, firefighters, and police officers.

"We have to build housing for all levels," Sheehy said at his fundraiser, later adding, "We are not going to be able to keep teachers if we don't build housing."

Noe Valley Democratic Club President Todd David, who hosted the fundraiser at his home that attracted 40 people, has known Sheehy for a decade, as they helped launch the political group for parents in the public schools.

"He is one of the most committed and hardworking people I know," said David, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition. "He is focused on issues I care about, like public education, recreation and parks, and housing."

Mandelman has also made solving the city's homelessness issue and lack of affordable housing key focuses of his campaign, saying the city can build more housing without sacrificing the character of its neighborhoods. It is one of the reasons why Jordan Davis, a transgender activist and advocate for single-room occupancy hotel residents, is backing Mandelman in the race.

"He is good on housing justice, which is a big thing for me," said Davis, who serves on the city's SRO task force. "People who are working class or poor should not have to live in SROs. They are meant to be temporary housing."

The issue hits close to home for Mandelman, as when he was 11 years old his mother, struggling with mental illness, ended up homeless. Mandelman had to fend for himself, and in high school, lived with Bernard Burke and his wife, Eleanor, in the city's Richmond district.

"I've experienced first-hand how people can fall into homelessness and what it takes to get them off the streets," said Mandelman, who as an adult secured guardianship over his mother in order to get her the care she needed. "We just can't continue to spend this much money and have so little to show for it. But that means bold new leadership in City Hall that will demand better results â€" I'm ready to do that work."

Mandelman is an urban development attorney who currently works in Oakland as a deputy city attorney. Throughout his legal career he has helped cities across the East Bay build housing, he noted.

"No one on the Board of Supervisors has my background in building housing and working to revitalize neighborhoods," said Mandelman. "I want to bring that practical, real world experience to the board, cut through the ideology and pessimism, and get affordable housing built here in San Francisco."

He also distanced himself from policies championed in the past several years by progressives, such as the moratorium on building new housing in the Mission district that gay former District 9 Supervisor David Campos had proposed but was rejected by voters.

"Bans, moratoriums, and boycotts are easy to come up with, and both sides of the aisle are guilty of doing it. But when you go to these 'politicians of no' with a vision or a plan, too often you hear excuses like: 'it's complicated' or 'that's not the way things are done' â€" they like the status quo because, frankly, it's easier," said Mandelman on the steps of James Lick Middle School with Campos standing behind him to his right. "Now I'm not saying these politicians are bad people. Creating change, especially around big entrenched issues, takes a lot of hard work, it takes leadership and a supervisor who's willing to stand up for his constituents."

Education is also part of Mandelman's platform, as he has called for San Francisco to offer universal pre-school. And this fall City College will be free for residents of the city to attend, a policy he has backed as a college board member.

"Often we hear from supervisors that schools aren't their problem. They'll tell you to call the Board of Education if you have any concerns about local schools," said Mandelman. "I'll tell you this: children and their families are every elected official's responsibility, from dog-catcher to the president of the United States."

A number of district residents at both candidates' events remain undecided about the race and came out to hear what the candidates had to say.

Jim Maloney, a gay man who lives on Liberty Hill between the Castro and Noe Valley, has known Mandelman "for years" and is leaning toward endorsing him in the race.

"I want to hear what his reasons for running are and what he is going to focus on," said Maloney.

Standing with Maloney was journalist and drag queen Paul Pratt, who also has known Mandelman "a longtime."

"I am leaning toward Rafael, I feel like it is his time," said Pratt, noting that a key issue for him in the race is how the candidates will address homelessness "and the rampant tent cities we have."

Noe Valley resident Brendon Kearney, a real estate agent and gay man who serves on the board of Project Open Hand, attended Sheehy's event to learn more about the candidate.

"I am a big supporter of state Senator Scott Wiener and he has his endorsement. I am interested in hearing about his positions and what he is going to focus on," said Kearney.


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